Hardware upgrade and new life for an old Dell laptop

  1.    26 Oct 2015 #1

    Cheap Hardware upgrade adds new life to an old Dell laptop

    Last year, to replace my old laptop, I bought a brand new Dell 17 inch Inspiron 5737 laptop (Intel i5 4200U cpu - passmark benchmark 3280) 8gb ram and 1TB hard disk. It came with Windows 8.1, which I have upgraded to Windows 10 Home x64. Really nice and I got it at a good price. My new go to business and home machine. But the cpu is soldered in place, so no cpu upgrades in the future for this one.

    But, now sitting around my house was my perfectly good, old, slow, Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop. I bought this old laptop new in 2009. It came with a socketed Pentium T4200 cpu (passmark benchmark 1155), 3gb ram, 320gb hard disk. I bought it right at the end of Windows Vista. About a month later Dell sent me the free upgrade dvd for Windows 7 Home Premium.

    I wondered how cheaply I could upgrade the old laptop. Well, for about $60 I replaced the cpu, added more ram and an ssd hard drive. I now have a much faster machine that runs Windows 10 Home x64 and dual boots Linux and then some. It now runs twice as fast.

    I upgraded the Intel Pentium T4200 cpu (benchmark 1155) to an Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 cpu (benchmark 1960) for $15, used from Ebay. The Inspiron 1545 will accept up to an Intel Core 2 Duo T9900 cpu (benchmark 2219). But the T9900 cpu is about $50 used and only about 10% faster than the T9600 cpu. So I went cheap.

    The cpu is very easy to swap out on an Inspiron 1545. An access door on the laptop bottom is held on by 4 screws. The cpu heat sink is held on by 5 screws. The cpu is released from its socket by turning another screw 1/2 turn. Another 1/2 turn of that screw and the new cpu is firmly in place. Fresh thermal grease on the cpu and the whole brain transplant took 15-minutes. Videos on YouTube showed the way. Very easy.

    I upgraded the ram from 3gb to 4gb for $15. Switched out the 1gb ram stick for a 2gb. Not ready to spend $50 for two 4gb DDR2 ram sticks. If the price drops a lot later, then I probably will upgrade to 8gb. But once again, I went cheap.

    A couple of screws opened another access door on the laptop bottom. The new ram stick snapped into place. The whole operation takes less than 5 minutes. It took longer to find my small screwdriver than it did to change the ram. ;-)

    Amazon had a sale on a no-name (KingDian?) 120gb SSD laptop drive for $29 (now it's $39). I jumped on that deal. For that price, I'll take the chance. Works great running Windows 10 and 2 Linux distros. It's at least twice as fast as the old spinning hard disk. Two screws hold the hard disk in place. The hard drive slides in and out of a slot on the side of the laptop, through a small access door. Two more screws hold the hard disk in a small tray. Swapping in the new hard disk took less than 5 minutes. Once again, very easy, and well worth it.

    I made the laptop triple boot. Windows 10, Linux Mint and a Linux Chromebook clone (Chromixium). All accessible from a Linux installed boot menu (Grub). Windows 10 is running on a 70gb partition and each Linux distro has a 25gb partition. After a clean install, Windows 10 took about 15gb of disc space, Linux Mint took 5gb and Chromixium took about 5gb.

    Before the hardware upgrade, I was running Windows 10 on the old machine. It was okay, but compared to my new laptop, it was slow to respond. After the hardware upgrade, it's a pleasure to run. No more clicking and waiting. Click and it happens. The new cpu, ram and ssd hard disk really made a difference.

    Linux Mint (Cinnamon) is a really nice Linux distro and very Windows like. It's based on Ubuntu Linux, but looks more like Windows than Ubuntu does. It runs very fast on the old Dell. Surfing the net in Linux using Firefox and I can't tell it's not Windows. Best of all, it's free. If you have an old laptop with no Windows license, run Linux on it.

    Chromebooks looked interesting to me. So after booting Chromixum, I have a Chromebook with Linux under the hood. Looks and operates exactly like a Chromebook. Glad I didn't buy the real Chromebook hardware. Seems kind of limited and stuck in the Googleverse, but it's fun to play around with. If you are thinking of buying a Chromebook, try the clone, Chromixium, first. It might save you some money. It's free.

    So for about $60 I more than doubled the speed of the old Dell laptop and have a fun machine to experiment on with Windows 10 and a couple of Linux distros.

    As another experiment, on the old 320gb hard disk, I installed 10 different Linux distros (distributions) at the same time. Each is separately bootable using the Linux boot menu Grub. Each Linux distro is on it's own partition, but all share the same swap partition. You can only install 4 primary partitions on an MBR hard disk, or 3 Primary, 1 Extended partition and up to 56 Logical partitions. I partitioned the hard disk, using the Linux program Gparted, into 3 Primary Partitions, 1 Extended Partition and 11 Logical Partitions. You can partition an MBR hard disk into 15 to 60 partitions, depending on hardware, operating system and partition software. Another fun experiment and the chance to compare many Linux ditros. Yes, you can live boot Linux on a USB stick or run a virtual machine Linux distro, but there is nothing like running an operating system from the hard drive and giving it full use of the system cpu. I always find an annoying lag in responsiveness using the virtual boot method. Running from a live boot USB is okay as a test, but I like running from a real hard disk where I can save changes and tweaks easily.

    If you have an old laptop laying around, take another look at it. There is probably more life in it.
    Last edited by Antilope; 27 Oct 2015 at 07:45.
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